Why does the US media lie so much?
My mentor and dissertation committee member, Dr. Peter Dale Scott, recently wrote on his Facebook page: “Inadequate decently priced housing is one of America's most urgent domestic problems, with developers vacating neighborhoods to build third and fourth homes for the one percent. It is a symptom of what's wrong that Cynthia McKinney, one of the relatively few former members of Congress with a Ph.D., has to go to RT to discuss a crisis that is so under-reported in the US media.”
And therein lies the problem with US media: The news is so filtered and in some cases propagandized that it bears little resemblance to the day-to-day intellectual needs of the average US citizen. It fails to provide solutions, let alone information that allows US citizens to cast informed votes. Either by omission or by commission, the US media actively under-, ill-, or misinforms the public on crucial issues that matter! The reason they do this is because they legally can. Media in the US has at least one court ruling that allows them to knowingly lie to the public.
Let’s start with the First Amendment to the US Constitution that protects freedom of speech. Courts in the US have ruled on many occasions that freedom of speech also includes the freedom to lie. The rationale is that such rulings give space for unpopular statements of fact. For example, in 2012, the US Supreme Court voted 6-3 to affirm a lower court decision to overturn a conviction for lying about one’s credentials.
The lower court judge in that case wrote, “How can you develop a reputation as a straight shooter if lying is not an option?”
Washington State Supreme Court even ruled that lying to get votes, distinguishing between fact and opinion, was not something that the state should negotiate. It wrote that people and not the government should be the final arbiter of truth in a political debate.
Now, the First Amendment does not protect some types of lying: like, for instance, lying while under oath, lying to a government official, lying to sell a product. Even in defamation cases, the plaintiff has a firm threshold to overcome, especially if the person targeted is a “public person.” However, the Supreme Court has emphatically ruled that individuals have a right to lie: what about corporations and media outlets? In 2012, the Supreme Court extended First Amendment rights to organizations and corporations in its Citizens United decision.
My local newspaper, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution (AJC), ran a headline against me just days before my election that read: “McKinney Indicted.” One had to pore over the article to learn that the McKinney referred to was neither me nor my father, nor anyone related to me. But the AJC never stated that fact. It was a dirty trick carried out by the US press. And sadly, it happens all the time. I filed a lawsuit against the AJC, but had to withdraw it because of a lack of money to finance the lawsuit and, worse, the hostile environment regarding the media and anybody's efforts to make them tell the truth. I remained powerless before the media monolith and wondered why and how they could get away with such blatant and outright lies.
Then, in 2010, 'Project Censored' ran a story that caught my eye: “The Media Can Legally Lie.” After having had my series of run-ins with my local media as they always failed to report the truth about me, I was drawn to this story. Project Censored is a media watchdog based at Sonoma State University in California. Its goal is to end the junk food news diet of misinformation and disinformation fed to the US public by the corporate media. It is a project of students and faculty to shine a light on underreported or unreported stories that should be of great interest to the public. The Project Censored movie tells a part of its important story.
The 2010 story centers on two journalists, hired by FOX News as investigative journalists, who became whistleblowers when they were instructed to report “news” that they knew was not true.
According to Project Censored, in February 2003, FOX News argued that there was no prohibition on media outlets distorting or falsifying the news in the United States. And skipping ahead, FOX News won on that claim! But to backtrack to provide some context, the issue was the placement of Bovine Growth Hormone, BGH, manufactured by Monsanto, into the milk stream without labeling it.
A husband and wife reporting team produced a four-part series revealing the health risks for humans in drinking milk from cows treated with BGH to boost milk production. FOX News wanted the reporters to add statements from Monsanto that the couple knew were not factual. When they refused to make the suggested edits, the couple was fired. They sued and a Florida jury decided the couple was wrongfully fired. FOX News appealed the case. Basically, the Florida Appeals Court ruled that there is no law, rule, or even regulation against distorting the news and that the decision to report honestly resides with the news outlet.
FOX News was joined in its court action by other news outlets, notably Cox Television, Inc., a sister organization to the Cox-owned Atlanta Journal and Constitution. In an incredible and chilling turnabout, the two truth-telling journalists were ordered to pay FOX News millions of dollars to cover the company’s attorney fees. The reporters were told by FOX News executives, “The news is what we say it is.”
And there we have it. Now, this Court action immediately affected the right of people in the US to know what is in the food they buy. Media consolidation in the US is such that six corporations control 90 percent of the junk food news and entertainment fed to the people of the US and around the world. And US Courts not only say that this is OK, but also decided that it’s OK for them to knowingly lie to the public. That, in a nutshell, is why the US media lie: Because they can. And that, in a nutshell, is why the people of the US are increasingly turning to RT and alternative news outlets for information: Because they must.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.